How Do We Reach Women's Empowerment and Gender Equality in Development?
This post is written by Aslihan Kes, senior gender advisor for USAID's Bureau for Resilience and Food Security.
Kicking off Gender Month on Agrilinks
In its first decade, Feed the Future has made significant strides in closing some of the most critical gender gaps and advancing women’s empowerment in agriculture, resilience and nutrition. Our work supported women farmers and entrepreneurs in overcoming barriers to access to agricultural inputs, technologies, markets and information; financial and business services; and increased participation and decision-making roles both in the household and in community groups. The Women's Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI), developed by Feed the Future and partners early on, made empowerment measurable and informed the strategic integration of gender into our programs. As a result of greater use of WEAI and other sex-disaggregated data, in Feed the Future's Zone of Influence in Bangladesh we observed a 31% increase in women's empowerment from 2011 to 2018.
As we enter our second decade, looking back and reflecting on the successes and challenges of the first 10 years, we see many new opportunities to support women and girls across food and water systems and to promote more gender inclusive and equitable systems. We also recognize the myriad new challenges brought on by climate change and COVID-19.
Now more than ever, it is also clear that addressing gender inequalities is critical for sustainable, equitable and resilient food systems. With fewer productive assets and less access to information on climate change and response options, women are less able to adopt improved practices and technologies or otherwise respond to climate change.
The COVID-19 pandemic made visible many long standing disadvantages faced by women and girls, and the pandemic is threatening to erode the gains made toward gender equality. Across food systems, mobility restrictions and supply chain disruptions, compounded by increases in unpaid care responsibilities, have put significant strain on women’s livelihoods, food security and nutrition. Across the globe, gender-based violence has surged as women and girls are confined to their homes with the perpetrators. Many girls whose schooling was interrupted by the pandemic face the risk of early marriage.
Opportunities for the new decade
Transformative changes are underway across food systems and they hold many opportunities for women and girls on and off the farm in production, processing, marketing, financial and other services and employment. To realize these opportunities — particularly in the higher skilled and more profitable segments of markets — women and girls need a level playing field.
This entails continued efforts to address persistent gender gaps in access to land and the promotion of the financial inclusion of women and girls through tailored financial products and services and by unlocking finance for women-owned enterprises. Gender-sensitive extension and advisory services, including via digital platforms, remain critical for women and girls to access training and innovations. This, in addition to investing in their collective agency, can significantly improve women’s access to markets.
Time and labor constraints are among the key contributors to gender gaps in productivity and profits. To relieve their time burden, women need to have access to relevant labor-saving technologies. Policies and practices that reduce and redistribute women and girls’ unpaid care burden can also alleviate their time poverty, improve their wellbeing and free up time for leisure, education and market work.
Improving the overall enabling environment for women and girls is critical for sustainable progress at scale. This involves transforming gender norms in social and market institutions, bridging gaps between laws and practice, and addressing potential unintended consequences of women’s changing roles and gender power dynamics, including but not limited to gender-based violence. It also requires strengthening women's leadership and voices at all levels: in farmer and water organizations, civil society, business networks and policy fora. Such transformation requires the ownership and participation of everyone, including men.
This month at Agrilinks, we will be highlighting new research and programmatic evidence and will learn more about impactful and scalable solutions. Our blog series will dive deeper and build upon the themes of empowering women and girls beyond production; gendered secondary impacts of COVID-19; and gender and climate. We invite you to join in those conversations throughout the month as we continue to explore.